Where was God in the Philippines?
A flood survivor is surrounded by debris on the Philippine island of Leyte.
November 11th, 2013
11:16 AM ET

Where was God in the Philippines?

By Daniel Burke, CNN Belief Blog Co-editor

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(CNN) - The disasters are always different and often devastating. But the questions they raise are hauntingly familiar.

In the days since Super Typhoon Haiyan swept through the Philippines on Thursday, survivors are frantically searching for lost family members and international aid groups are springing into action.

Officials say the death toll may rise to 10,000 in the heavily Catholic country. Meanwhile, many people are asking: How should we make sense of such senseless death and destruction? Was God in the whirlwind itself, as the Bible hints, or present only in the aftermath, as people mobilize to provide food, water and shelter?

These questions may not be new, but we keep asking them, perhaps because the answers remain so elusive.

For many Americans, a paradox sits at the heart of their thinking about natural disasters. According to a survey taken after 2011's earthquake and tsunami in Japan, most Americans (56%) believe that God is control of everything.

But more Americans blame hurricanes, earthquakes and other storms on global warming (58%) than on an angry and punishing deity (38%), according to a 2011 poll by the Public Religion Research Institute.

“These kind of questions about God being in control and there simultaneously being suffering are the kind of things that keep seminarians up at night," institute CEO Robert P. Jones said in 2011.

"They’re thorny theological issues."

READ: Typhoon Haiyan: Survivors in Philippines face grim struggle as death toll rises

The Bible's Psalm 107 says that “For (God) commands, and raises the stormy wind, which lifts up the waves thereof. ... He turns rivers into a wilderness, and the water springs into dry ground."

But, as the poll shows, most Americans have moved past the idea that God causes natural disasters, wrote Stephen Prothero, a frequent CNN contributor, in a 2011 column.

"When it comes to earthquakes and hurricanes, our authorities are geologists and meteorologists," Prothero said as he rode out Hurricane Irene on Cape Cod in Massachusetts. "Most of us interpret these events not through the rumblings of the biblical prophet Jeremiah or the poetry of the Book of Revelation but through the scientific truths of air pressure and tectonic plates."

For atheists, storms like Haiyan are proof that God doesn't exist, author and activist Sam Harris said.

"Either God can do nothing to stop catastrophes like this, or he doesn’t care to, or he doesn’t exist. God is either impotent, evil or imaginary," Harris said after Japan's tsunami. "Take your pick, and choose wisely."

God may or may not be in withering storms, but many religious leaders say they sense a divine presence in the aftermath, as people across the world mobilize to lend a hand.

Rabbi Harold Kushner is one of the most famous names in the realm of theodicy, a branch of theology that tries to explain the unexplainable: why a good God would allow bad things to happen.

After Japan's tsunami, Kushner called nature "an equal-opportunity destroyer," making no distinctions between sinners and saints.

But Kushner, author of the bestselling book "When Bad Things Happen to Good People," said he sees God's hand in the resilience of people whose lives have been destroyed and in the "goodness and generosity" of strangers who donate and pray for the survivors.

READ: How to help victims of Typhoon Haiyan 

That still leaves a tricky question, though: Why do humans suffer, sometimes terribly, in the first place?

There's no good answer, says the Rev. James Martin, a Jesuit priest and best-selling author.

"Each person has to come to grips with that," Martin said. "It’s not as if some magic answer can be found. But the idea of God suffering along with us can be very helpful."

Muslims, on the other hand, see stormy trials as tests from God, said Sayyid Syeed, national director of the Islamic Society of North America’s Office of Interfaith and Community Alliances.

"Muslims believe that God tests those he loves, and these tragedies also serve as a reminder to the rest of us to remain grateful to God for all our blessings and cognizant that we must support those in need," Syeed said.

Vietnamese Buddhist master Thich Nhat Hanh, whose native country remains in Haiyan's path, said such storms remind us that our lives are impermanent and the importance of treasuring each moment.

"This is the best that we can do for those who have died: We can live in such a way that they can feel they are continuing to live in us, more mindfully, more profoundly, more beautifully, tasting every minute of life available to us, for them," Hanh said.

Stephen Prothero, Jessica Ravitz and Eric Marrapodi contributed to this report.

- CNN Religion Editor

Filed under: Asia • Atheism • Belief • Bible • Buddhism • Christianity • Death • Ethics • Faith • God • Islam • Judaism • natural disasters • Philippines • Prayer

soundoff (3,827 Responses)
  1. katherine

    Walk through a children's cancer ward and ask if there is a god. To see babies and children immensely suffering–is god impotent? I hear people believing 'god was with them' when they got the job, passed the bar exam, lowered their cholesterol. Really? And this 'god' let's children suffer and die?

    Rabbi Kuschner found a way to reinvent/rationalize his own belief system when his own young child died. I feel for him and his poor son.

    There is randomness in life, and unfairness–gross unfairness. Period.

    November 11, 2013 at 3:23 pm |
    • Icabus

      the rain falls on the just and the unjust.

      November 11, 2013 at 3:27 pm |
    • lol??

      God is perfect in his fairness. Jesus is life and life IS fair.

      November 11, 2013 at 3:31 pm |
    • lngtrmthnkr

      yes Katherine,life can be extremly unfair and disasters happen for seemingly no reason.Disasters will continue to happen at an accellerated pace in the future. Some people find comfort in God.

      November 11, 2013 at 4:37 pm |
  2. mirofr

    Why all the nonsense? These people need help and the only way they will get it is from other people.

    November 11, 2013 at 3:22 pm |
    • Water to Whine

      Thank you. Belief Blog is simply a sight that opportunistically fans any flames of religious debate it possibly can. Belief Blog is just looking for as many comments as possible. It does it by provacation of personal beliefs.

      November 11, 2013 at 3:43 pm |
  3. Richard

    This is one of the lamest if not the lamest supposed "thought provoking" articles I have ever read. Who are we to judge or evaluate God? After approximately 6 million years on this planet we still can't find a cure for the common cold or launch a national healthcare website successfully but, yet, we are going to made judgmental rationalizations about "Why God may (or may not) allow, permit, condone, etc natural disasters?" Sheeeeesh. Use your time wisely and figure yourself out while there is time. God will have plenty of time in the hereafter to explain Himself to you should that be necessary.

    November 11, 2013 at 3:22 pm |
    • Zipper

      Any "TRUE" christian will tell you that the earth is only 5 – 6000 years old, MAX!!! Here you are seen stating that after 6 million years we can't find a cure for the common cold. Then you tell everyone to "use your time wisely and figure yourself out while there is time. God will have plenty of time in the hereafter to explain Himself to you should that be necessary." I think you should take the time to figure out what you are talking about instead of being a blatant hypocrite.

      November 11, 2013 at 3:31 pm |
      • lngtrmthnkr

        Zipper, I am a Christian and I know as do most people who can think, that the earth is aprox 4.5 billion years old. That fact does not interfere with the Bible.When God talks about time he is on a totally different scale than we are.He does things in order of the processes he set down. If you can't see what is befor you ,you are wearing blinders and are refusing to allow God to be more than the words in the Bible verses.

        November 11, 2013 at 4:47 pm |
        • G to the T

          That's a particularly convenient excuse but it still doesn't jive. Tell you what, once ALL christians can agree on the same theology/version of the Bible, we'll talk. Until then I recommend you all work it out amongst yourselves.

          November 13, 2013 at 12:18 pm |
    • Bible Clown©

      "Who are we to judge or evaluate God?" I'm a human being. God's apparently afraid to face me to be evaluated, so I give Him low marks for nonexistence.

      November 11, 2013 at 4:51 pm |
  4. jenni

    WE ARE HUMAN AND WE EXPERIENCE NATURAL DISASTERS AND WILL AS LONG AS WE LIVE ON THIS EARTH , WE ARE NOT IMMORTAL, AND YES GOD CARES FOR EACH AND EVERYONE ON THIS PLANET. but as long as we live here we will experience pain, death, tragedy, sickness , disasters, happiness, sadness, peace ,etc. because we are again not immortals . I do not understand everything but I have faith that whatever we face God will help us through it.

    November 11, 2013 at 3:20 pm |
  5. fred

    Darkness of atheism exposed!

    Atheist Sam Harris did a great job characterizing the soul of the atheist: "Either God can do nothing to stop catastrophes like this, or he doesn’t care to, or he doesn’t exist. God is either impotent, evil or imaginary,"

    As is typically the case these militant atheists twist the truth of the Bible to cast God in the form of their man made idols. This is nothing new as atheists in the complete darkness of their soul can only see that which is of man and trust only that which man can understand using only man made tools. In this darkness of heart (soul) is a boundary that they are not even aware which traps them. That darkness includes unsupported belief in a void before and after their existence. Without God there is a void beyond the atheists awareness because they cannot see the light and the militant ones build up a great unsupported hatred towards those who have seen the light.
    This is sad and it stirs Christians to pray for their soul because we the full reality which includes the darkness of this world and the fullness of God who made a way out of that darkness.

    November 11, 2013 at 3:19 pm |
    • TwistyCap

      The "either/or" argument against God has been swatted away many, many times. It shows a real lack of understanding of the nature of God. It is the absolute weakest of arguments.

      November 11, 2013 at 3:27 pm |
    • Ummmm

      " Without God there is a void beyond the atheists awareness because they cannot see the light and the militant ones build up a great unsupported hatred towards those who have seen the light."

      Got to love it when Christians have to lie about others to feel good about their bogus beliefs.

      November 11, 2013 at 3:28 pm |
      • fred

        Ummmmmm according to your belief please explain your existence before and after your organic matter began reacting to chemical stimuli.

        November 11, 2013 at 3:54 pm |
        • AtheistSteve

          You first. But remember saying "God did it." isn't really an explantion but just a lazy way of evading the fact that you can't explain either.

          November 11, 2013 at 5:39 pm |
    • ml

      militant athiests?? When is the last time you heard of athiests running planes into buildings, or carrying out witch burnings, or killing thousands if not millions on a "crusade"... ?
      thats just plain dumb.

      November 11, 2013 at 3:52 pm |
      • fred

        Richard Dawkins alone with League of Militant Atheists and many others are in fact militant atheists. Perhaps you are more in the line of agnostic and not out to hate believers but, there are atheists who are worse in their godlessness than the small percentage of Christians that forget Jesus said to love your enemy.

        November 11, 2013 at 3:59 pm |
        • Bible Clown©

          Richard Dawkins, alone, rammed a plane into a building? When did this happen?

          November 11, 2013 at 4:53 pm |
      • fred

        Should read ...Dawkins along with.....
        Richard Dawkins calls himself a militant atheist and recommends that approach.
        The building was put there by God to stop militants.

        November 11, 2013 at 5:28 pm |
        • HotAirAce

          I'd pay money to watch you explain that theory to the families of those murdered by religious azzholes doing what they thought their god wanted,

          November 11, 2013 at 9:55 pm |
    • cedar rapids

      'Atheist Sam Harris did a great job characterizing the soul of the atheist: "Either God can do nothing to stop catastrophes like this, or he doesn’t care to, or he doesn’t exist. God is either impotent, evil or imaginary,"'

      and yet you did nothing in your post except lay claim to the darkness of atheists souls. There was no attempt to put an alternative view that shows why Harris was wrong in his claim.

      November 11, 2013 at 4:54 pm |
  6. Doc Vestibule

    The safest country in the world insofar as natural disasters are concerned is Uruguay.
    They citizenry is 40% irreligious.
    Why doesn't God smite Uruguay?

    Only 22% of Norwegians believe there is a God (Eurobarometer poll, 2010).
    In the last 30 years, they've suffered 9 natural disasters with ZERO lives lost.
    Why doesn't God smite Norway?

    Singapore's population is a mere 18% Christian (same as the irreligious).
    They average 1 fatality per year for the last 30 years due to natural disasters.
    Why doesn't God smite Singapore?

    70% of Estonians have no religion.
    They've lost 3 people in 2 natural disasters since 1980.
    Why doesn't God smite Estonia?


    November 11, 2013 at 3:14 pm |
    • Tom, Tom, the Other One

      Wait a minute, I have it. God does not bring disaster to people who will never turn to him. He dishes it out to nations that will be repentant and will turn to him. Hell awaits all the rest. Christian thought is not really all that hard to follow.

      November 11, 2013 at 3:22 pm |
    • Butterfly

      All of that hot air that emanates from incessant praying and all the hand-waving obviously sets up catastrophic vortices!

      November 11, 2013 at 3:30 pm |
  7. Muslim

    Go and read the Quran. You will find the answer

    November 11, 2013 at 3:14 pm |
    • Richard Cranium

      If the question is "what man made religios book is just as full of nonsense as any other religious text?" then you would be correct.

      November 11, 2013 at 3:16 pm |
    • Doc Vestibule

      Believers of Tanakh, Talmud, Midrash, New Testament, Quran, Sunnah, Nahjul Balagha, Avesta, Vedas, Upanisahds, Bhagavad Gita, Puranas, Tantras, Sutras, Vachanas, Adi Granth, Purvas, Samayasara, Niyamasara, Pravacanasara, and Pancastikaya; Anupreksa; Samadhishataka of Pujyapada; Tattvarthasutra of Umasvati, Tattvarthasutra, Pali Tripitaka, Jataka,, Visuddimagga, Tripitaka, Lotus Sutra, Garland Sutra, Analects; the Great Learning; the Doctrine of the Mean; the Mencius, Tao Te Ching, Chuang-tzu, Kojiki, Nihon Shoki, K-oki, Ofudesaki, Mikagura-uta, Michi-no-Shiori, Johrei, Goseigen, Netarean Shower of Holy Doctrines, Chun Boo Kyung, Kitab-i-Iqan, Epistle to the Son of the Wolf, Book of Mormon, Dianetics, or Revelation X say the same thing.

      November 11, 2013 at 3:16 pm |
    • Colin

      I read all I need to know about Islam in the newspapers on the morning of 12 September, 2001.

      November 11, 2013 at 3:18 pm |
      • Richard Cranium

        And you can see all you need to about christianity from any newspaper from august 10-11, 1938.
        Even the Catholic Church remained silent .

        November 11, 2013 at 3:36 pm |
  8. Water to Whine

    God was where he always is...everywhere...or nowhere...or at Dave & Buster's winning tickets. What does it matter? This is life. Things happen.

    November 11, 2013 at 3:12 pm |
  9. careful who you donate to

    Any day now Pat Robertson will seize this media moment to make a show of his good works. Just remember that while he was doing the same thing in Africa (ostensibly to feed starving children) he was funneling church donations into his diamond-mining operation in Africa. There are plenty of non-fraudulent organizations that you can donate to instead. Please do so. Look up how much money they spend on "advertising and administrative overhead" online. That should rule out Samaritan's purse too, where Franklin pockets millions from the donations. You can easily find an honest organization online.

    November 11, 2013 at 3:11 pm |
    • Tom, Tom, the Other One

      I recommend Oxfam. Also, check out Doctors Without Borders.

      November 11, 2013 at 3:13 pm |
      • Akira

        Doctors Without Borders is a very worthy organization. I know several Doctors who are members.

        November 11, 2013 at 3:19 pm |
        • Doc Vestibule

          And should a Doctor operating in that organization make so much as an evangelical whisper, they are summarily excused from their position.

          November 11, 2013 at 3:32 pm |
  10. Johnny 5

    Sadly God is just a myth, and it's much easier to come to terms with this vs trying to deny it. These poor people were in the path of natures fury and nature has no stop button. For it just does what it does without compassion. May the poor people of the Philippines gain relief soon and find comfort by the hands others that care about you from around the world.

    November 11, 2013 at 3:08 pm |
    • Luposian

      Oh, Nature has no stop button? God doesn't exist? Then let me show you two videos that I am quite sure will burn out your "odds of happening" meter...



      ...now, you were saying? You CANNOT say it was sheer coincidence, because what are the odds of a "change in weather" at that exact moment, as they are recording that event. Also, if you say it was simply a fraud Televangelist, running around recording these types of events and trying to "prove the power of God", realize he is WHERE THE TORNADO IS! He messes up, he may well likely be DEAD! You gonna risk your life, in the face of a Tornado, to prove a point and make money? You'd be a fool!

      Also, realize my own brother is proof positive of the hand of God... we had a fire start way out in someone else's field (Rosamond, CA) from a lightning strike (I saw the strike and then saw the tiny fire start and then grow immediately to a field-sided blaze, racing towards our house. As my brother scrambled to get water hoses and the tractor in position, he realzied it was too little too late and simply placed it in God's hands... the wind shifted and the fire burned all along our windbreak trees, but never went past them. I've seen those trees... some were scorched, but none breached. Sheer coincidence? I think not... However, we do have an explanation for what people call "coincidence"...

      "I prayed and IT happened!" Good enough for me.

      November 11, 2013 at 3:48 pm |
      • Brother Maynard

        Wow ... truly amazing ...
        So basically what I learned from this is that the person in the video is a total and complete accomplice to the deaths in the Philippines. Why ? because they did not stop the typhoon from hitting the islands. This person has the power to change the weather through prayer and stood by and did nothing to save anybody. They should be held accountable for the death of over 10,000 people

        November 11, 2013 at 4:04 pm |
      • cedar rapids

        'But Hall's prayer could only do so much. The storm moved into nearby West Liberty, where Hall was born and raised, and marked a deadly chapter in the small town's history, killing six people.'

        Yeah, praise god right?

        November 11, 2013 at 4:44 pm |
  11. Topher

    "If you had died before you epiphany, conversion, being born again and were not SAVED by Jesus you would have been sent to hell, Yes or No question?"

    Absolutely YES. Scary thought. I called myself a Christian from my late teens until my late 20s. But it wasn't true. I was a false convert. If I had been in an accident and died during that time, I'd be in hell now.

    November 11, 2013 at 3:05 pm |
    • brainwashed christians

      Absolute bullcrap! Nothing more than your deluded imagination.

      November 11, 2013 at 3:12 pm |
    • Charm Quark

      So dumping all your sins and guilt trip on jesus makes you saved. While I who am pure in that any offences I have committed, I have paid the price in the real world, would be condemned to your mythical hell. Don't you dare tell children that ugly delusion even your own.

      November 11, 2013 at 3:48 pm |
      • Topher

        Charm Quark

        "So dumping all your sins and guilt trip on jesus makes you saved."

        NO! That's not how it works.

        "While I who am pure in that any offences I have committed, I have paid the price in the real world, would be condemned to your mythical hell."

        I'm sorry, what makes you pure if you're a lawbreaker?

        "Don't you dare tell children that ugly delusion even your own."

        Don't worry, I won't tell anyone what you claim Christianity says. But I WILL be teaching my child what the Bible says.

        November 11, 2013 at 3:56 pm |
        • G to the T

          Which version Toph? There're so many I don't want god mad that I followed the wrong one...

          November 13, 2013 at 12:26 pm |
  12. JB

    God is right where he was when the asteroid hit that killed the dinosaurs he didnt exist. People are so weak that then need to think there is a god that controls everything. Why would you believe and love something that "tests" you by killing you? If I started killing my children to see which ones believed in me as a father would that be ok? NO! Same principle only one is masked as religion. Now I know that 56% of Americans are stupid and sheep. Think for yourself and realize s*** happens thats it. No reason other that the earth is bigger than us and we cant control what it does. We are at its mercy. Quit trying to find "reasons" and move on. THERE IS NO GOD.

    November 11, 2013 at 3:03 pm |
  13. Dorothy M

    Sun! Sun! Sun!
    Here it comes.

    November 11, 2013 at 3:02 pm |
    • Akira

      A George Harrison/Beatles reference. Nice touch.

      November 11, 2013 at 3:08 pm |
  14. Tigger

    "But more Americans blame hurricanes, earthquakes and other storms on global warming."

    [Squint] Not sure if serious...

    If so, 58% of Americans' understanding of the term "storms" is, um, a bit lacking.

    November 11, 2013 at 3:02 pm |
  15. Dorothy M

    I looked for God in the eyes and hands of the rescuers. But God was not in the eyes and hands of the rescuers. I looked for God in the shocked faces of the victims. But God was not in those faces. I looked for God in the stench of death in the streets. But God was not in the stench of death. God was neither here nor there. I could not find him anywhere.

    The three men I admire most
    The Father, Son and Holy Ghost
    Took the last train to the coast
    The day the music died

    November 11, 2013 at 2:57 pm |
    • Charm Quark


      November 11, 2013 at 3:00 pm |
  16. Salero21

    "Officials say the death toll may rise to 10,000 in the heavily Catholic country.

    That's correct and Idolatry is a very very grave and serious SIN. As such it carries with it and within itself grave and serious consequences.

    God was where HE has always been in Heaven, therefore since the Philippines is NOT Heaven, God was/is NOT to be found there.

    November 11, 2013 at 2:53 pm |
    • EX Catholic

      Well said sal!!

      That is very accurate and correct IDOLATRY is not religion IDOLATRY is a SIN.

      November 11, 2013 at 2:55 pm |
      • brainwashed christians

        "sin" is a man made concept...... how stupid...

        November 11, 2013 at 3:15 pm |
  17. pat the bunny

    My God are bigger than you god is bigger than, so there phooey.

    November 11, 2013 at 2:53 pm |
    • John

      Oh yeah? You haven't seen MINE!

      November 11, 2013 at 3:22 pm |
  18. Russ

    “I believe like a child that suffering will be healed and made up for, that all the humiliating absurdity of human contradictions will vanish like a pitiful mirage, like the desp.icable fabrication of the imp.otent and infinitely small Euclidean mind of man, that in the world's finale, at the moment of eternal harmony, something so precious will come to pass that it will suffice for all hearts, for the comforting of all resentments, for the atonement of all the crimes of humanity, for all the blood that they've shed; that it will make it not only possible to forgive but to justify all that has happened.”

    ― Fyodor Dostoyevsky, The Brothers Karamazov

    November 11, 2013 at 2:53 pm |
  19. Seraphzero

    God gave us free will, we have a choice to live as we want and the actions we deem worthy. If God never gave us free will, how are we suppose to think and feel; we will be basically robots. As for the bad things that occur, we are 99.9% indirectly or directly responsible. The 1% is a dark force pulling the strings and that force only has to whisper.God allows things to happen so that in time,we can be humble and draw closer to him. The truth is , we have control to create a world like hell or heaven. Train your thoughts and choose wisely.

    November 11, 2013 at 2:53 pm |
    • truthprevails1

      This explains why you're wrong...open your mind and think for yourself.

      November 11, 2013 at 2:55 pm |
      • Deano the Dino

        So does this !

        Alberta construction crew makes ‘rare discovery’: the fossilized remains of a 68-million-year-old hadrosaur


        November 11, 2013 at 3:03 pm |
        • truthprevails1

          That does rather debunk the creation myth. 🙂

          November 11, 2013 at 3:04 pm |
      • Seraphzero

        Haha,free will: is the ability to think for oneself and perform actions by emotional impulse or logic. I think we can all agree on that. I tried to discredit the bible with science ,physics,logic, historical archives. I was trying to take down the concept of God. I became humble and happy, that i can learn and make the world a better place. I don't care what you believe in nor what actions you try to take. We are not alone and humanity will experience the unknown. As for the idiots that are evil and stupid to disrespect the concept of life ,prepare for your beliefs and unrestricted animal impulses to bring you a permanent piercing pain and a false hope. Like sailors fighting for a drink from the sea with
        uncontrollable thirst. Welcome to reality!

        November 11, 2013 at 3:27 pm |
    • lifelonghockeyfan

      Either God knows all (including what will happen in the future) OR we have free will and God does not know what will happen in the future. You cannot have it both ways.

      November 11, 2013 at 3:03 pm |
  20. Larry Peterson

    The concept that "God is Love" is wrong. God's "love" is conditional. It is based on the fact that you must love him-or burn in Hell for eternity. That is hardly the definition of love or a God.

    November 11, 2013 at 2:51 pm |
    • lol??

      It's a family thing.

      November 11, 2013 at 3:14 pm |
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About this blog

The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.